​The Living Building Challenge: Building the Future


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By Tracy Backus, Director, Sustainability Programs, Teknion

Imagine a building that harvests its own energy, collects its own water and is free of environmental pollutants such as chemicals or foreign materials known to have an adverse effect on the building or its occupants.  Sound impossible?  Welcome to the Living Building Challenge.

Launched in 2006, Living Building Challenge (LBC), or “Challenge” as it has become known, is a building certification program that guides the most advanced execution of sustainability in the built environment and is an aggressive opportunity for building projects to move far beyond “being less bad” to being truly regenerative. It has inspired and motivated rapid and significant change in green construction projects all over North America and beyond, making the movement one of the fastest growing building standards in the world.

But how do you design and build a “Living Building”?  

 Let’s start with two very unique features of the “Challenge”— 1) It is a matter of proven performance rather than an anticipated outcome. Actual building performance metrics are required, unlike LEED, where modeled performance is accepted.  Therefore, projects must be operational for at least 12 consecutive months prior to evaluation for certification.  2) The core framework of the Challenge comprises seven performance categories, known as Petals, focusing on Place, Water, Energy, Health & Happiness, Materials, Equity and Beauty.  These Petals are subdivided into a total of 20 supporting Imperatives that are strategies to support the process of building sustainably.   All 20 Imperatives must be met to achieve Full Living Building certification.  This compilation of Imperatives can be applied to almost every conceivable building project, of any scale and any location. It can be a new building or an existing structure.

 There are two additional types of certification that can be achieved within the Challenge.  These certifications are Petal Certification and Net Zero Energy Certification. Petal Certification is given to a project that achieves at least three petals and Net Zero Energy Certification requires the Net Zero Positive Imperative in order to represent the highest levels of achievement in energy reduction.


DECLARE labels—ingredient labels for products—have streamlined the process for materials selection by encouraging full manufacturer transparency and verifying all product ingredients.

The Challenge is also an advocacy tool that stimulates conversations and promotes a less prescriptive philosophy of restorative thinking.  By educating the public through a formalized program called LBC Ambassadors Network, individuals can voluntarily advocate, educate and conduct workshops in their respective markets. The workshops support education to potential customers, architects and designers, and highlight a deeper understanding of sustainability to our industry.  Workshops and CEUs are often hosted by Teknion’s 10 ambassadors across the US and Canada.  Ambassadors are trained and certified in topics of the latest standard of the Challenge, allowing them to work with potential clients to develop strategies for achieving certification.

Understanding and navigating proper materials choices is just one of the resources provided by the Ambassadors.   The Red List within the Materials Petal is one of the most difficult requirements in the Challenge, ensuring that products utilized contain none of the 22 worst-in-class materials, chemicals and/or elements—known as the Red List — that impact human health.   DECLARE labels—ingredient labels for products—have streamlined the process for materials selection by encouraging full manufacturer transparency and verifying all product ingredients. Teknion currently has DECLARE labels for 6 of its products, with more to come in the near future.

Still think the Living Building Challenge sounds too good to be true? Ask a few of our clients:  The Bullitt Foundation, Point 32, National Resource Defense Council and The Brock Center, which is featured in this newsletter. Projects that achieve Living Building Status can claim to be the greenest anywhere, and will serve as role models for others that follow.

For more information about the Living Building Challenge, go to www.living-future.org


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